“Sometimes the tug captains are a bit taken aback when they realize I am running the dock,” Wenonah Hlavin said on a bitter cold day in Baltimore harbor. Hlavin is the assistant dockmaster at General Ship Repair, the Port of Baltimore’s only full service shipyard.
“I love it here,” Hlavin said looking out the window of her office to the drydock where a Washington, D.C., fireboat was getting the finishing touches on a new paint job. Hlavin, a graduate of Virginia Tech’s marine engineering program, thought she would go into ship design, but after a year or so behind the computer screen, she knew she needed something more hands on. She found a position at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard where she was part of the weight and stability team, planning for docking Naval ships.
“I mainly worked on the docking plans for aircraft carriers,” she said.
Hlavin’s husband is an active duty Naval officer and he too worked at the shipyard in Norfolk. In fact, they sometimes worked on the same project. When he was transferred to the Washington Navy Yard, Wenonah began looking for jobs in the region. Instead of returning to her naval architecture roots, she decided to apply as assistant to Rick Rappold, GenShip’s docking guru with three decades at the yard.
“While the scale is quite different, the principles are the same. Developing a docking plan for a carrier takes months, Rick and I plan for dockings here in a matter of hours.” Hlavin said, adding that she prefers working in a smaller yard. “There were over 1,000 people at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, but here there are under 100. I like knowing everyone. I also really like how everyone is willing to help each other out.”
“Rick has been an amazing mentor,” Hlavin said. Since she started in 2013, Rappold has walked with her through many blockings, dockings and fleetings. When he retires in May, Hlavin will become the dockmaster, or will she become the dockmistress?